15 January 1999

Focusing on fertility can cut forced culling

FOCUSING on fertility for a cows first three lactations could reduce forced culling, leading to cost savings of 0.7p/litre.

So Duncan Forbes of Kingshay Farming Trust, running an MDC-funded cow longevity project with NMRs support, told the British Cattle Breeding Conference in Cambridge this week.

Interim study results from 30,000 culls reveal that on average, cows leave the herd after just 3.02 lactations, a 33% culling rate, with 46% of cows culled by the end of their third lactation.

Of cows studied, 62% were culled for forced reasons such as infertility or disease. Disease is the reason given for 17.6% of culls, with an additional 7.5% culled for high cell counts, while infertility accounts for a further 24.8% of culls – almost half of which are repeat breeders. During the year of the study 10% of cows were BSE cohort culls.

Data from the first six months of the study shows that the most common reason for culling animals in their first three lactations is infertility. Mr Forbes told delegates cows must milk for three years to pay off their rearing or purchase cost.

"When losing half the herd within three lactations only half the herd is contributing to profit. You are losing young animals which are your best genetic material."

There is considerable scope for reducing culling rates and cost savings, he added. In a typical 100-cow, 6500-litre herd reducing culling rate from 33% to 25% in the current economic climate is worth £4500 a year or 0.7p a litre.

This gives more control, reducing forced culling through infertility and poor health, said Mr Forbes. "This gives more scope for selection of best quality animals, enhancing genetic progress."